Deferral of Co-Location Votes or "The People's Business"
Brooklyn representative Kelvin Diamond introduced a resolution to defer co-location votes from the rescheduled December PEP meeting to January. Diamond cited the losses and disruption caused by Hurricane Sandy as obstacles to holding public hearings where the affected communities could weigh in on the decisions. Chancellor Walcott spoke against the resolution citing the need to proceed with "the people's business". I joined the Queens representative in supporting the Brooklyn resolution. The resolution failed as the Staten Island representative joined the mayoral bloc in dismissing our concerns about the ability of the public to focus on these hearings and the larger privatization effort underway in the aftermath of the hurricane. Of the ten proposals in question, six of them are to place schools privately managed by the Success Academy Network in public school buildings. Gotham Schools has a good account of the discussion.
Budget Vote and Rules of Order Skirmish
Next up was an $8 billion budget vote, the aggregation of actual school budgets for approval. Chair Freida Foster recognized me to ask questions and make comments. I asked why the budget had been delayed and then imposed under the Chancellor's emergency powers, a highly unusual event. The response was Mike Tragale, the DOE CFO was sick. I remarked upon the inconsistency in how the DOE decided to defer the budget vote when one person was sick but proceed with the Success Academy co-locations when hundreds of thousands were distracted. I was about to raise a concern about the poor fiscal management practices that place so much importance on a single person when I was interrupted by a member of staff, Courtenay Jackson-Chase, the DOE's general counsel and secretary to the PEP. I explained that she had not been recognized by the PEP chair, had no standing to interrupt me and was not even a member of the Panel. Chancellor Walcott began lecturing me about bullying. I noted that he had not been recognized to speak either. Eventually after criticizing my comments and questioning by prerogative to even pose them he relented and I went to my next question, about the record number of budget appeals requested by principals and granted by the DOE.
Proposals for Co-locations and Expansions
A proposal related to the Brooklyn College Academy failed for lack of votes. The mayor typically has three appointees associated with CUNY on the PEP. These CUNY-affiliated members generally keep quiet and rubber stamp the mayor's proposals. In this case these members abstained due to conflict of interest.
The principal of PS MS 15 in the Bronx spoke against the expansion of another public school in her building citing the loss of three classrooms currently serving children with special education needs. The DOE dismissed her concerns because her school would still be "at footprint". The action will result in severe overcrowding in the building with an estimated utilization between 116% and 132%. I was joined by the Brooklyn and Queens representatives in refusing to support the change. There is currently no Bronx appointee to the Panel. The proposal passed 8-3.
A Success Academy co-location was approved by an 8-3 margin with the mayoral bloc and Staten Island member opposed by Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens. This vote was premature as the school in question is asking us for public school space to serve middle school students despite not being authorized by the grantor of its charter to do so. The host building will go to a utilization of 113% to 138%, an increasingly typical level of overcrowding for Harlem schools subject to co-location with privately managed charter schools. I asked the mayoral bloc Panel members why we could not instead provide this space for the excellent public school in the building, PS 175, to expand as it previously requested. Only Ian Shapiro responded, criticizing me for challenging the DOE experts who decided a charter school would better serve this community than growing a successful public school.
We had an absurd discussion about "in-sourcing" the Galaxy budgeting system by paying the consultants who run the system $23 million over the next five years. The deal reminded me of the contract with Future Technology Associates (FTA). In both cases the DOE similarly bundled three or four discrete pieces of work together for the incumbent rather than keeping them separate so multiple firms could bid. And DOE offered the same argument to defend the consulting contract - "only the consultants know how to run this system". Let us all hope this one turns out better than our deal with FTA. The principals of FTA ended up with indictments following an investigation that revealed widespread fraud.
A contract for a tutoring firm discovered to have committed multi-million dollar over-billing errors was considered. One of our new student representatives, Ilan, pointed out that either the firm stole from us or was so incompetent as to make massive billing errors. Either way we shouldn't want them tutoring our students. Despite this display of sagacity so rare at PEP meetings, the contract was approved 8-3.